Having started with the Eat Cambridge food festival in April, it’s been a while since I brought Hot Pink Apron to the beautiful city I live in. There is a wealth of both incredible restaurants and grocers in my area in Cambridge, but first of all we have to talk about Fitzbillies.
Fitzbillies is something of an institution. Opened in 1922, it has been a feature in Cambridge for almost 100 years and is famed for its ludicrously sticky Chelsea buns. These buns are a favourite of town and gown alike: even Stephen Fry is a fan. It closed briefly following the recession, but has been lovingly restored and reopened, and now features a rather fantastic restaurant alongside the traditional bakery. Although I am not impartial to a Fitzbillies lunch, I have very fond memories of spending pocket money on Chelsea buns and pecan pies here as a teenager, and those sticky-sweet buns have never lost their appeal.
For its unique surroundings, beautiful decor and brilliant food, this is normally one of the first places I bring visitors to Cambridge and the first place I go for comfort food. I have brought friends here to drown a broken heart in starch and sugar, lamented post-graduate joblessness, celebrated job interviews and exam results, and it was the first place my mother-in-law took me to go get some comfort-starch when my friend passed away last year. Fitzbillies has earned an enduring place in my heart.
If this picture has you drooling over your keyboard already, you have two options.
- Fitzbillies do mail order (and yes, they do ship overseas!)
- Flex your baking muscles with a recipe for the Chelsea bun’s little brother, the cinnamon bun, below.
- 450g strong white bread flour
- 2 x 7g sachets ready yeast / 1 tbsp dry yeast/25g cake yeast
- 150ml warm milk
- 50 ml warm water
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 tsp salt
- 50 g caster sugar
- 50g melted butter
- 1/4 cup molasses sugar (dark as you can get it)
- 1/4 cup dark brown soft sugar
- 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tsp vanilla essence
- 2 tbsp butter
- Start out with the dough. If you've used quick yeast, stir together all the dry ingredients, then beat in the wet ingredients. OR...
- If you've got fancy live yeast, mix it with the milk with 1 tsp of the sugar for 15 mins to wake up. Add to the dry ingredients along with the egg, butter and water.
- Knead for about 10 mins, or until springy to the touch – this is a weird dough as it is so rich, so knead fairly lightly to start with and build it up – the approved technique is to stretch but never split the dough.
- Leave to prove* for 1 hour. In the meantime, make your sauce!
- Mix together the sugars in a heavy saucepan. Pour on the boiling water and mix thoroughly – simmer for 3 mins. Add in the butter and boil for a further 8 mins. Keep stirring to keep it from burning - it should start smelling fudgey and delicious. Mix in the vanilla and cinnamon. Leave to cool.
- Back to the dough… Base line a deep tin with greaseproof paper; a cake tin is fine. Your dough should be done proving for now so knock it back and roll it out into a long rectangle.
- Cut the rectangle down into strips, and smother the strips in sauce. Roll them up and start stacking them into the tin. Keep a little sauce for when they’re cooked. Leave to prove somewhere warm for 30 – 40 mins.
- Preheat your oven to 220ºC (430ºF). Once they’re done proving (they should fill the tin) bake for 10 mins, then cover the tin with foil, and bake for another 10 - 15 mins at 180ºC (350ºF). Once they've cooled a little, pour over the reserved sauce so that it soaks into your freshly baked buns. Enjoy!
- *For the baking uninitiated, proving is the stage in bread making where you leave it somewhere warm for the yeast to do its thing, allowing the dough to rise. If it looks in danger of drying out, spray with a little oil. Otherwise, this is definitely the easy bit!